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Polishing for posterity

Tread of Pioneers Museum will offer common sense tips to preserve family history

Autumn Phillips

The funeral was long over, all the relatives had gone home, and Candice Lombardo was at her grandmother’s home sorting through her belongings. As the executive director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum, Lombardo was eager to look through her grandmother’s historic photographs and documents and get them in order for the next generation.

But when she opened the first album, she was taken aback. Most of the photos were out of their sleeves. There was evidence that many had fallen out and were probably in the bottom of a dresser drawer or in a box somewhere, if they were still around at all.

“It made me think,” Lombardo said. “I want these photographs to be around for my children and my children’s children.”

As a result, Lombardo and Tread of Pioneers curator Kelly Bastone are offering a free workshop Wednesday evening about how to care for family heirlooms. Attendees don’t need to bring anything, and most of the information will be available in handouts.Lombardo and Bastone will discuss the care of quilts, clothes, china, silver, books, photo albums and scrapbooks and the preservation of historic photographs and original documents such as death and birth certificates and newspaper articles.

They also will offer a list of resources for archival equipment such as acid-free pens for writing on the backs of photos and sleeves for preserving important photos and documents.

The advice will be based on the kind of items people commonly inherit and keep in their homes.

“We work with a lot of people who have amazing things that they may have cared for lovingly, but there is still damage that could have been prevented,” Bastone said. “I think this workshop will be a great public service and a way to keep things around for (generations).”

Most of the advice the museum staff will offer Wednesday is simple and is based on common sense.

“Most people have newspaper clippings stuffed into manila envelopes, but each article should be kept in its own sleeve,” Lombardo said.

Inevitably, when sorting through a relative’s estate, someone is faced with a pile of photographs that may or may not be well-organized. Lombardo suggests going through the photos and writing the names, dates and any other identifying information on the back using an acid-free archival pen. One or two generations later, those faces and places that are so recognizable to you may become the faces of strangers, unless that knowledge is captured somewhere.

“The museum has thousands of photos of unidentifiable people,” Lombardo said.

Photos should be kept in separate sleeves so the chemicals from one photo are kept apart from others. Archival photo albums and sleeves are available from several specialty companies. Lombardo also suggests getting old photos scanned, then the copies can be handled, and the originals can stay in their protective sleeves.

As for other items left behind, such as wedding and christening dresses and baby clothes, Bastone offered one piece of advice, “Remember gravity, light and friction.” Those are the things that destroy your heirlooms slowly and imperceptibly.

“If you hang something, over time, gravity is going to sag it and stretch it,” she said. “Most people have these enormous trunks of clothes that are scrunched in there.”

Instead, of hanging or stuffing clothes in drawers, Bastone suggests that important pieces should be placed in individual boxes with tissue paper.

On Wednesday night, Bastone also will talk about safe ways to clean those clothes. Do not put them in the washing machine, she said. “If you toss them in the washer, you just took 20 years off that textile’s life.”

— To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com


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